In my 30 years of teaching experience, I have had the privilege of teaching people of all ages and all walks of life. A common phenomenon that I have noticed among my students is that their mind is clear of everything except what is going on between them and the horse. This seems interesting to me.
When involved in daily tasks like school, working, shopping, cleaning, even driving your car, many thoughts go through our heads like “What’s for dinner?” Or “That cloud looks like an elephant.” However, when riding a horse in a lesson or competition these thoughts do not enter the mind. Personal experience tells me that while pleasure riding (hacking, trail riding, cooling down) this phenomenon does not apply as intensely. At that point, one is relaxed and walking and therefore the challenges and tasks are completed.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Well, I am not a scientist or psychologist, so while not fully qualified to analyze this phenomenon I do have a theory to pose based on my experience. I suggest that the mind-body connection that must occur to keep a rider in synchronization and balanced with a horse, is so powerful and overwhelming that all conscious thought must be dedicated to this endeavour.
How often have you lost focus for a moment while riding? What happens at this time? Does your horse trip? Do you lose balance? Does the rhythm change? Does the horse refuse a jump? When the focus is lost so is the connection with your horse. It is like putting a kink in a hose or entering a dead zone of cell service. The horse wonders what happened; where did its partner go?
There are two connections with your horse when riding. They are physical and the metaphysical. Both are required to ride successfully. The physical is needed for obvious reasons – stay on the horse, queue and guide the horse. The metaphysical is needed to make the conscious connectedness between the horse and rider. This is the exciting and most important part. This is the part that lets you and the horse into each other’s minds so that you can achieve more.
Think about the times when you are aware of your horse’s thoughts before anything actually happens. Now ask yourself if that was your thought or the horse’s thought? Did the horse refuse the jump because you thought it would or because you felt the tension, question and/or fear from your horse? What happened first? Then your coach gets on the horse and amazingly the horse jumps the jump without hesitation. How did that happen? Why did the horse do it for the coach and not for you? Hmmm.
The coach was successful because of the metaphysical connection that happened and maybe a small percentage to do with better physical queues. The main difference is in the mindset and influence on the horse that the coach is more experienced at than the student. However, it is often not discussed between a coach and student. Did the student let their own thoughts influence the performance and behavior of the horse? In this case, where the coach was successful, yes.
SOMETHING TO CONSIDER...
Ask your coach what they are thinking when they ride. They will likely tell you that they are counting strides, feeling the rhythm or, more often than not, they may say nothing. Such is the focus and clearing of conscious thought that permits that connection to the horse for a successful ride.
I challenge you and your coach to try this exercise – please be safe when doing it and don’t do it without your coach present: Next time you are in a lesson ask your coach to put you on the lunge line at the walk. Close your eyes, feel the physical movement of the horse underneath you. Attempt to feel where your horse is going to step next, with which leg, at what speed, in what direction? Is your horse a linear mover or a lateral mover? Take a deep breath and connect with your horse. Then when ready think about your shopping list, or what’s for dinner and notice what happens to your horse and your balance. Did something change? Discuss this with your coach and you will find an awareness in your riding that will bring about a new level of performance.
WHO IS SAMANTHA KING?
Born in Surrey, England Samantha was exposed to horses at the age of 3. Once she immigrated to Canada she grew up with a strong desire to be involved with horses. This dream came true through the Humber College Equine Program where she worked in the stables and as an assistant riding instructor until she attained her Coaching Certification in 1988. Newly certified Sam continued to teach at Humber and started her own riding school. At the height of her business, she had many horses and students competing in eventing and hunter/jumper on the schooling, Trillium and A Circuits. Aside from her own stables in Oakville and then Georgetown, Samantha has taught riding at Sunnybrook Stables (Toronto), The Riding Academy at the Horse Palace (Toronto), Southlands (in Vancouver), and Stonewood Riding Academy (Pickering). She continues to be involved with horses as the Mum of an 11-year-old rider who competes on the Trillium Circuit, judging a few schooling shows and loves to teach whenever she can!